Cartopping pair of kayaks

-- Last Updated: Feb-04-07 11:20 AM EST --

I have a Subaru Forester with a factory roof rack rated for 150 pounds. Is it feasible to carry a pair of kayaks on top?

(1) Prijon Kodiak - 17'x 23.5", 62 pounds, and
(2) Prijon Catalina 15'3" x 21.25", 53 pounds

The plan is to use either Thule Hull-a-Port J-cradles or Glide and Set cradles---although I'm not certain there is enough room to carry BOTH kayaks flat side by side.

I would prefer to attach the Thule carriers directly to the factory rack if there is no big advantage to buying the complete Thule system with cross bars. Launch site is 30 miles distant on winding country roads--no interstate.


I have malone autoloaders and thule canoe brackets. I can actually fit a kayak on its side and a canoe next to it on the brackets… all on the roof of my sedan! I have a Thule roof rack with bars that DON’T extend past the outside of my car width.

On my Forester
I carry 2 on my Forester, One on a Thule Glide and Set, the other on malone J-hook style. No problems. Don’t think they would fit both on saddles.

On an Outback…
I can carry two yaks. Malone J cradles on the factory cross bars and the other on just the foam blocks on the stock crossbars. No problem…

Invest in towers/bars
On my Forester, I have the whole Thule system; towers, crossbars and J-cradles, for two 16’ kayaks. We’ve logged over 15,000 miles at highway speeds with no problems.

In my opinion, the most important parts any system are solid connection to roof (replacement towers/bars are highly superior to factory) and bow and stern tie-down lines ($5 of quality rope and good knot-tying skill). If cost is a major factor, I would recommend investing in these first, and buying some minicell to carve some pads.

To be honest, after a couple of years of using them, I think the J-cradles are pretty wimpy and not worth the price. I wish someone would have told me that 4 years ago.

After-market roof racks
You might be better off with the after-market roof racks – they are easier to load a boat on, and easier to secure the boat to.

I use Yakima system, and have been happy with it. I carry both canoe and kayaks. There are several attachments that both Thule and Yakima offer that make carrying boats easier. Some attachments are interchangeable between the two systems.

I find that Yakima Boatloader eases rooftopping a lot, especially on my minivan. To carry multiple kayaks, I use Yakima’s kayak stacker – it can be tricky to load, but allows me to carry three hardshells for my family. For canoe, I use gunwale brackets. The stacker also allows to carry our canoe and kayaks at the same time. The bars on my minivan extend past the roof, but do not exceed overall vehicle width.

Experience with our forester (had one for a few years now) is to definetely invest in some quality crossbars.

If you search the archives, you’ll probably find some responses by me saying that the factory bars our fine. However, with a few seasons and a multitude of different mounting gear and configurations, I’ve found a solid crossbar really does make a difference.

I used to mount 2 sets of hull-a-ports to the factory bars and a real stiff crosswind on the freeway convinced me to spend the extra $$ for some yakima bars.

The factory bars flexed so much under a load of 2 yaks that it really began to concern me. If you look at their attachment points to the clamps that fit on the rail on top of the forester roof’s, you’ll find the integrity of the system just isn’t enough for an investment of 2 kakays…IMO.

I now use a set of Thule saddles with the yakima bars and I’ve found I have a very strong system now.

Malone Cradles
I have a Chevy Tracker with factory roof rack and sliding cross bars I have had not ANY problems putting a 17 Ft Boreal I-Boat and a 14 FT Old Town Adventure XL on it, side-by-side, with standard Malone cradles.

I’ve hauled the 'yaks, with only cradle straps, up and down the East Coast as well over the mountains and up and down the Mississippi Valley. They have stayed snug and tight in all kinds of winds.

Any day on the water is a great day,


Stackers v. Cradles
The bars on the Subaru are solid and will have no problem supporting the weight of your boat.

Since your boats are plastic, I’d suggest you take a look at the Thule stackers. These are less expensive than the Hull-a-Ports, take up less space, and fold flat when not in use.

Carrying your boat on its side (rather that on its hull) will prevent denting, and the Hull-a-Port (or any other J-cradles style rack) is harder to load because you have lift the boat above the level of the rack to set the kayak into the cradle.

I run an outfitter and we have carried up to 4 sea kayaks or five ww boats on one stacker!

While they aren’t necessary, the rack pads do help hold the boats in place while loading…but be aware that the Thule pads won’t fit on Subaru bars. You’ll need some aftermarket pads (such as the ones Sea Kayak Georgia sells) or use closed cell foam pads.


Thanks for the input.
Razor wrote: “The factory bars flexed so much under a load of 2 yaks that it really began to concern me. If you look at their attachment points to the clamps that fit on the rail on top of the forester roof’s, you’ll find the integrity of the system just isn’t enough…”

I looked, and I agree. Those tiny screws are all that’s protecting you from having to file a horrendous accident report.

If Subaru is hip enough to offer something called the “LL Bean Edition”, when do you think they’ll get around to coming out with the “Subaru Outback Thule Edition”? I think if I manufactured cars, I’d want to hitch up with Thule or Yakima and let THEM design a rack system from the roof up–or from the frame up. For many car buyers, the car is all about what it can safely carry. Why should we pay for TWO roof racks… and then wind up with something that is, at best, an afterthought?


I think I’ll go with the Thule 440 system and one Glide and Set; then see how much bar space is left.

Thule bars are ok (2nd to Saris) but I’d go with the Malone carriers. We had a set of their original J-Cradles early on and switched to the new AutoLoaders this year. You don’t have to lift the boat up and into the carriers. The Malone’s have a boarding ramp that allows the boat to just slide in.

They are honestly a better product.

Just my 2 pennies.

I was tempted by your good impression of Saris racks to have a look at their web site. Alas, they have quit making roof top racks—but still support their old customers. They are concentrating their business on rear bike carriers.

I did manage to get a peek at a Saris Roof top rack (via Google Images) and it does indeed look strong and sleek.

I still figure that if ONE car manufacturer would team up with Thule or Yakima and offer a solid system as an original option, they would sell so many well-equipped cars that all other manufacturers would soon follow suit.

At times it seems like the free enterprise system is it’s own worst enemy.

on our outback wagon we use the factory cross bars and thule J brackets with two 17 foot kayaks with no problem


Picture - Outback w/ 3 sea kayaks
Well, not fully on topic. It is an Outback, and uses the Yakima cross bars. That said, here’s the photo:

Yellow one (my friend’s, so I wanted to treat it the best) on a Yakima Hullraiser, gray one (mine, and I don’t care that much about scratches) upside down right on the cross bars (no pads), and the orange one (a rental) just leaning against the gray one.

Saris roof racks are available
from several on-line retailers. The best deal I have found is at I do not think you can get paddling accesories thru them (they deal more with bike stuff), but they have the best price, free shipping, and no tax (outside MN). Based on opinions I have seen on this forum and others, I will be ordering from them soon.

Factory rail specs vs thule yak etc
For many systems, (audi, some Vw, some americans, some others) the factory rails are far stronger than anything you will do without welding. Call the reps for the set-up you want. Have your cars details at hand. They will have the specs for setting up their rack on the factory rails, vs going fron the ground up. Ask them for specific pound ratings!

For newbies, the rails run front to back on the car.

My thule bars stick out beyond my vw rails, but are not as wide as my car. I will put one side of a saddle on that overhang but that may not be officially recommended.

on my legacy station wagon
i installed yakima bars with homemade racks. no problem loading 3 boats side by side. see pics posted on “subaru” topic. (51st message) pics has thule cargo box between 2 boats but i can remove the box & fit in another kayak when needed.